White-faced Ibis at Anahuac
May 24, 2019 ~ Most of the year here on the Texas coast when we see the dark iridescent Ibis in the marsh and wetlands we argue “is it a Glossy or White-faced?” because we have both year-round and sometimes they even travel in mixed flocks. But, this time of year there is no doubt. You can check out the scads of White-faced Ibis in full breeding plumage building nests at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Bill and I went on May 17th, 19th and again on May 21st. The conditions ranged from nicely overcast to sprinkling rain to Blinding Sunstorm™. You know, your general “Partly Cloudy with a chance of rain forecast”.
And the wind? Did I mention the wind was in the high range? So, to put it mildly… we had challenges.
OK. So we all know what we are talking about. Here is a nice White-faced Ibis perched on the outside of a big canebrake. This time of year the white part is very prominent and is unbroken around the eye and under the bill. The lores, or skin around the eyes, is bright maroon as well as their legs. The eye is red. And all their feathers are primo iridescent.
They are building nests deep into the canes and reeds all around Shoveler’s Pond and we even saw some near Crab Corner on the road to Frozen Point. You can see the nest and this is probably a mated pair taking a break from the hard work. The neighborhood includes Cattle Egrets, White Ibis, some Snowies and Tricolored Herons. And we even saw a lot of Great Egrets; they are not all at the nearby Smith Oaks Rookery at High Island building big stick nests.
Ideally, you want to find one flying in with nesting materials. They are really dark birds (you want to be careful not to underexpose or the shadowed parts will be all black with no feather detail) and you want enough sun that the iridescent tones will show up (but not too much or they will just look like a shiny reflective mess). And you have to follow him through the sky and keep him all in focus while he is moving really fast.
Against a bright sky.
And while he is flying, he will pass over and behind reeds that will try to steal your focus.
Sometimes he passes behind the reeds only to reappear in a clear space..
And then he will drop down into that mess to deliver his stick. If you are lucky you can keep him in focus.
I have a lot of deletes. But you keep trying and trying. And try some more.
I know. This one doesn’t have a stick, but you get the idea. They are swooping and turning and landing in the reeds and taking off again. It is a busy place. The light was changing CONSTANTLY so I was changing ISO from 640 to 1000 and even 1600 depending on the clouds. I wanted to keep a high shutter speed (all the in flight shots are 1/2000 sec or 1/2500) and I thought I would need a bit of depth of field since they have long bills and a big wing span, so a lot of these are shot at f/6.3. Bill was shooting mostly wide open at f/5.6. And I changed to f/5.6 on the third trip and it worked fine. They really are not that close.
The shutter speed is very important and if you can meet that with your auto settings… then, good for you :-)
These ibis are such acrobats. We found them in all kinds of positions as they would change directions and fight the wind. He has a big stick and I think he is actually diving into the reeds to make his delivery.
I have been using the Area Focus D-9 spot for birds in flight but after these trips I am a solid convert to the 3-D focus tracking in these circumstances. The 3-D mode works partly off color and the high contrast seems to be tailor made …although my Cattle Egrets are sharp, too. There are a lot of YouTube videos on the subject you can research, but this is a good general overview of Area Focus mode.
If you have been around rookeries you recognize this behavior. There is always some guy that grabs a stick bigger than anything anyone else has and tries to get home with it. We found another with an even bigger stick but he lost it in the high winds.
On Tuesday the wind was really strong. That is the day the strong South wind pushed the high tides all inland and we had coastal flooding. This bird had a big dried reed and he circled around us twice before he could get back to the nest site. You can pull your car off the levee road a bit or even park at the wide spots and get out and hand-hold for all these in flight shots.
Can’t say enough good stuff about the Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF lens. No way I could have gotten these shots with the heavier 500 f/4.
The strong wind can work in your favor as they will kind of hover and float as they descend. If you can position yourself with the sun and the wind at your back, then you can do some great work. Each day was different as to cloud cover and wind, but by the third trip I was much better at exposure and following the birds in flight.
It bears repeating: this bird in flight stuff takes a lot of practice. You can look back over time in my blog and it has literally taken me years of practice to get consistently good images.
White-faced Ibis and Glossy Ibis are both found along the Texas coast but the White-faced is much more common. They will lay 3-4 blue green eggs and incubation is by both parents usually for 20-22 days. The youngsters are fed regurgitated food by both parents and move around and out of the nest at 3 weeks. By 5 weeks they can fly fairly well. As sub-adults both species often feed together to confuse birders who argue if they are Glossy or White-faced.
This White-faced got too close to a Black-necked Stilt’s nest. Those stilts will attack anything they find as a threat. If you do go to Anahuac, there are several Black-necked Stilt nests along the back of Shoveler’s Pond on each side of the just repaired and reopened boardwalk. All the tall reeds and canes on that side are gone and the pond is much more open than previous years. I found out the Refuge got some giant swamp machine to literally chomp up the vastly overgrown canes and reeds in that area. Good job!
Oh, Bill Maroldo saw eggs in one of the Stilt’s nest so there will be tiny birds soon as incubation period is 24-29 days. And there are Killdeers nesting in the area, you can find them in the road doing their thing.
I have just thousands of images and more to process that I will share on FB next week. We took a lot of photos of the Cattle Egrets and Tricolors as well; I will have to write about them later. And Green Herons! We found babies! And there are Purple Gallinules in the pond and in the reeds along the side roads.
With Brazos Bend closed due to flooding, Anahuac is a really desirable destination. On the road to the locks and boat ramp you can almost always find Clapper Rails and often Snowies and/or Tricolors feeding. Keep an eye out for Caracaras as well. Have you been to Anahuac lately? Do you have your name on the waiting list for a Nkkor 500 f/5.6 PF? Let me know in the comments below.